I almost cheated with this week’s blog post and just shared this as I eek out these final few precious hours.
But, after two and a bit weeks of going nowhere, seeing no one (with a couple of exceptions), doing very little, practicing yoga (I’m not very good), sitting in the sun (much better at doing that), reading, writing, journaling, listening to music, going for long walks and the occasional beer or wine or two, I thought I’d share this instead… the edited highlights of Staycation 2022.
As I reflected on the past two weeks, a wee voice muttered in my ear that I’d wasted ten precious days of annual leave from the salt mine then another little voice reminded me that sometimes doing “nothing” and speaking to very few folk is exactly what your body and mind are telling you that they need to do.
The first professional performance of an Andrew Lloyd Webber show that I saw was Phantom of the Opera at the Manchester Opera House circa 1993/94. I fell in love with the show, so much so that we used some of the music at our wedding. (All I Ask Of You, just in case you were curious.)
Manchester Opera House was also the first opera house that I had visited. We had gone with a friend who had bought the tickets at the last minute. The seats were high up in “the Gods” and in fact we were so high up that we were above the chandelier!
Over the years, I’ve seen the show several times, including twice in London where we were seated right beneath the chandelier’s path and were so close, we felt the draft as it swung past!
This year, as I explored out options for places to visit while we were in Paris, the Palais Garnier caught my eye. It was the first tour that I booked. In fact, our whole schedule ended up dictated by when we could do that tour and it was in fact the first of the trip.
So, what’s the connection? Where’s she going with this? I hear you muttering.
The Palais Garnier, the National Opera of Paris, was the inspiration behind Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom Of The Opera.
Now, I’m not about to turn this into a history lesson…whew!… but its impossible to write about the Palais Garnier without including the basics, so humour me please.
According to our tour guide, prior to the Palais Garnier being commissioned, opera houses in Paris were built from wood. They were lit by oil lamps and/or candles and as you can imagine were prone to burning down. In 1860, Napoleon III launched a competition to design a new opera house for the city. The competition was won by the then unknown architect, Charles Garnier. In fact, according to our lovely guide, it was his first commission. In 1861 construction began. Garnier designed everything himself as well as personally selecting the collaborating artists and sculptors. The opera house was finally completed in 1875. Napoleon III never visited his opera house. He died two years before it was completed.
The result is stunning both inside and out!
We entered the building to meet our tour guide via the entrance that was reserved in the past for season ticket holders, finding ourselves in an ornate vaulted rotunda, themed along the signs of the zodiac. Our guide led us through to the grand staircase, past the beautiful statue Pythonisse by Marcello.
The grand staircase is breathtakingly ornate. There are 30 different kinds of marble and stone involved in its construction. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualise the Paris elite of the 19th century sweeping up and down the marble stairs in their finery. I felt suitably under-dressed in my t-shirt, crop trousers and converse!
The main auditorium is stunning in its red and gold colour scheme. Red was chosen as that’s the colour that was most flattering to a lady’s complexion and ladies came to the opera house to be seen and admired by potential suitors. Its in here that the main inspiration for Leroux’s novel can be found. The theatre is steeped in history but let’s dispel a couple of myths.
There is no lake under the opera house. There is however a huge water tank/cistern to help balance out the weight of the building which was constructed on swampy ground.
The 7 tonnes chandelier is beautiful but its never fallen to the ground. But, in 1896, one of the lead counterweights fell. The 300lbs weight landed on a woman in the audience. As our guide quipped “she became a crepe”. The poor unsuspecting woman had been sitting in seat #13.
As for the phantom himself, he’s never been seen but box #5 is kept empty…just in case.
We were unable to see the full stage during our tour as it was being readied for the opening of Fin de Partie, an opera adapted from Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Our guide informed us that the stage is one of the largest in Europe and reaches a height of 65m. The Arc de Triumph would apparently fit on it!
The ceiling of the auditorium is a bit of a bone of contention with many Parisians. The original ceiling painting was replaced in the 1960’s by a new bright modern one by Chagall. It’s not popular and is noticeably out of keeping with the rest of the theatre. The good news is that the original still lies beneath it… funding just needs to be found to restore it. There’s a small replica of it on display and having seen it, I truly hope that funds can be found to restore the original artwork as Garnier intended it to be seen.
The most spectacular room in the opera house is without a doubt the Grand Foyer hall. Entering it really was a WOW moment. The room is 18m high, 154 m in length and 13 m wide and is as ornate if not more so as the palace at Versailles. This was effectively the opera house’s drawing room. The gold and mirrors accentuate the size and I honestly think it’s the most impressive room I have ever been in. The Grand Foyer also affords access to the opera house’s balcony and offers an uninterrupted view down Avenue de l’Opera.
As our guide explained, visiting the opera was more about being seen to be there than to watch the performance. The show was almost incidental. This need to be seen extends beyond the stone walls of the Palais Garnier. The Avenue de l’Opera is the only one of the city’s main thoroughfares to be void of trees, allowing a clear view for those watching of the people arriving and leaving the opera house.
During our short stay in Paris, we passed the Palais Garnier daily. (It was across the street from our hotel, so it was hard to miss it.)
On our last morning in the city before our taxi to the airport arrived to collect us, we went for one final walk round the opera house’s perimeter. As I stole a last look up at the balcony, I could just imagine the phantom watching from the window of the Grand Foyer, searching for Christine among the throngs of tourists outside.
For more info on the Palais Garnier see links below
What takes approximately 106500 steps and four days (it was all the time I had) to explore?
I’m sure there are many answers to that question but on this occasion the correct answer is Paris.
I could wax lyrical here about every last second of the trip, but I’ll spare you that level of detail and share the edited highlights with you and a few of the several hundred photos I took as the Big Green Gummi Bear, and I meandered the rues and boulevards of Paris.
This short break was planned and booked as a “once in a lifetime” experience so we didn’t scrimp on anything. Life is for living and after the delights of the past two years, we decided that we deserved the five-star experience.
We arrived in the city mid-afternoon on Monday and checked into our hotel on Rue Scribe. It was ideally situated for exploring the city so once we’d freshened up, we headed out to explore and set off in search of the Seine. Seemed like a good place to start.
It only took us a few minutes, after an initial wrong turn, to reach Place de la Concorde, which was to be one of our main landmarks for the duration of our stay. There’s a huge gold topped Egyptian obelisk in the centre of Place de la Concorde that sits on the former site of the guillotine!
We crossed Pont de la Concorde and wandered along the left bank of the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower. So many bridges! We didn’t want to walk too far and crossed back via Pont de l’Alma (I think) then meandered back through Place de la Concorde, up Rue Royale and along the boulevard back to the hotel.
To keep things simple for our first night, I’d pre-booked a table at the Hard Rock Café for dinner. The meal and cocktails were great but to be honest, our table wasn’t ideally situated for seeing the HRC’s memorabilia. We were seated in a crowded corner, and I had a view of a naked Frank Zappa sitting on the loo for the evening. I’ll confess I may have splurged a little in the rock shop on the way out.
Tuesday was our first full day of sight-seeing. We’d decided to visit one or two things/places a day to allow sufficient time to fully appreciate them. At least that was the plan. The Palais Garnier, the opera house across the street from the hotel, was our first stop. I’d booked a guided tour for us, and it was well-worth it to learn the history of this stunning theatre. (I’ll most likely write more about this in a future blog – you have been warned.) The Palais Garnier is stunning inside and steeped in history. It was also the opera house that inspired the story/musical/film Phantom of the Opera. We never saw the Phantom; his seat was empty.
After a long walk through the twisting streets, we found ourselves in the Montmartre district of the city. Our destination was the most visited monument in Paris – Sacre-Coeur. If only I’d realised that reaching it meant climbing as many stairs! I was in need of oxygen before I reached the wide staircase leading up to the church itself. The views of the city made it all worthwhile; the stained glass of Scare-Coeur also made it worthwhile. We realised as we entered the building that you could also climb up to the dome for a mere 7 Euros each. That’s a climb that’s not for the fainthearted or the claustrophobic! 292 narrow, steep, spiral stone stairs take you up to the dome. I don’t often experience feelings of claustrophobia but by the last fifty steps I thought I was going to die! The walls were closing in on me (no idea if it does actually get narrower but it felt tighter), my heart was pounding out of my chest, I felt clammy, and my legs were like jelly. Thank God there was a stone bench to sit on at the top.
The views out over the entire city from such a high vantage point were breathtaking. You could see for miles!
Fortunately, the climb back down was considerably easier!
Wednesday saw us up and out early for a 10:15am rendezvous with our tour guide. Again, we headed to Place de la Concorde then through the Jardin des Tuileries to meet our tour guide at the Arc de Triumph Carousel. If you ever intend to visit the Louvre museum, our destination for the day, can I strongly recommend booking a guided tour. When we arrived, less than an hour after the museum opened for the day, the queues outside the pyramid entrance stretched for miles. Our lovely guide, Alexandra, by-passed those, allowing us to enter via one of the other underground entrances then escorted us through the crowds pointing out the key exhibits of the museum, as well as giving us a history lesson of the building itself. The Louvre is vast! We only saw a tiny portion of it. I’d have loved to stay and explore some more but the Big Green Gummi Bear was bored so we left about an hour after our tour ended.
We crossed the river to the left bank again then meandered out towards Notre Dame. Its currently impossible to get near it due to the ongoing restoration work. We meandered around Ile de la Cite before crossing Pont Neuf and heading back to the hotel to get ready for our “big night out”.
Showered and changed, we grabbed a taxi to take us back towards Montmartre and our destination for the evening – Moulin Rouge. We had an amazing evening being wined and dined in VIP style before enjoying the ninety-minute show “Feenie”. Yes, its all as glitzy as you’d imagine, complete with can-can girls. Incredible food, spectacular show, charming waiter (could have happily brought him home) and an altogether unforgettable evening. Worth every Euro.
Thursday was our last full day in the city (“whew”, my wee feet cried!) We had one final tour left – a trip to the summit of the Eiffel Tower. Again, we meandered through Place de la Concorde to the left bank, through the Invalides area of the city to Parc du Champs-Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. We met up with our guide and again our pre-booked tickets allowed us to skip the lengthy queue. Security checks are really tight here! We took the lift to the second level where our guide escorted us to each of the four sides of the tower, telling is about its history and what you could see from the view. The guided tour ended there, and we then joined the queue for another lift to take us to the summit. (Tickets to the summit are restricted in number.) Thank God it didn’t involve climbing any stairs as my calves and thighs hadn’t quite recovered from visiting Sacre-Coeur. Apart from incredible views, we found a champagne bar at the summit. Well, it would have been rude not to…when in Paris and all that…
Once we descended the tower (we walked down the stairs from level two) we meandered past the Trocadero and up towards the Arc de Triumph. The rush hour traffic around it was insane! The queues to visit the arc were a mile long so we appreciated it from a distance before walking the length of the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Well, all tours of France end on the Champs-Elysees.
There’s so much of the city I’ve still to explore but our time had run out and all good things have to come to an end.
I’m no expert but I did survive my “toadstool” hunt the other day. Being a creature of habit, I tend to walk the same route after work most days. As I walked down the hill the other day I spotted some toadstools and decided to see how many I could find on my late afternoon meander. It was very much a “look don’t touch” search. Here’s what I found :